LAS VEGAS (AP) – The Nevada parents of a former Marine accused Veterans Affairs officials of insensitivity and improper care for their son, who died this year of an apparent drug overdose.
Tony Bailey told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday that he and his wife, Mary Kaye Bailey, had trouble finding their son’s medical records at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Los Angeles and received a “total lack of sympathy” from hospital officials who handed them their son’s possessions in a garbage bag.
“I assumed that being a large VA facility, they would be best equipped and would have the best experience with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and related drug abuse issues,” Tony Bailey said. “I was wrong.”
The Baileys told their story at a Capitol Hill hearing focusing on VA shortcomings in treating Iraq war veterans with mental health problems.
Also testifying in Washington, D.C., were Randall and Ellen Omvig of Grundy Center, Iowa. Their son Joshua, a 22-year-old war veteran, shot himself with a handgun in December in front of his mother. They blame post-traumatic stress disorder for the suicide.
Ira Katz, deputy chief patient care services officer, told senators the VA was trying to improve mental health services in light of the veterans’ deaths.
“We are looking very carefully at our program, and we’re looking for lessons to be learned,” he said.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, the committee chairman, accused Veterans Affairs of failing to keep up with increased demand for mental health care for service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., a committee member, called Justin Bailey’s story “a terrible tragedy” and urged more VA action.
“It’s important to ensure that our nation’s veterans are treated with top-notch medical care and the respect and dignity they deserve,” Ensign said. “It’s critical that we conduct proper oversight so we can prevent similar occurrences in the future.”
Justin Bailey, a 1998 graduate of Las Vegas High School, was among the first Marines to serve in Iraq. He died of an apparent drug overdose Jan. 26 at age 27.
He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after he was discharged from the Marines in April 2004, and checked himself into the VA hospital in West Los Angeles last November.
Despite a history of prescription drug abuse, Justin was allowed to take a long list of medications unsupervised, his father told senators.
Over the past two years of his life, Justin Bailey was prescribed 27 different drugs, his father said. He said the day before Justin died, he was given five prescriptions in dosages of 14, 15 and 30 days.
“It doesn’t appear as if the drugs were monitored effectively, and in my opinion, he was given drugs and sent on his way instead of being properly diagnosed and treated,” Tony Bailey said.
Veterans Administration Secretary Jim Nicholson said during an April 11 appearance in Las Vegas that investigators are probing the circumstances of Justin’s death to form a plan to prevent similar situations.
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., blasted the VA on Wednesday for “a lack of caring, a lack of concern, a lack of competence.
“We lost a young veteran for no apparent reason,” she said.